Mr Lemon and Mrs Egg

I did a terrible thing last night: I sliced Mr Lemon in two. Elizabeth likes to draw faces on lemons and give them names. Last night I needed a lemon for my pasta dish and I saw “Mr Lemon” in the fridge and assured myself that she’d never know. My mistake was to leave his dismembered corpse on the kitchen bench. I saw her find it and immediately realised my error. She picked up one of the pieces looking for the face. Then she opened the fridge to look for Mr Lemon who was no longer there. It did not end well.

At the hotel in Edinburgh they had hard-boiled eggs with faces on them at the buffet breakfast. Elizabeth ate one but then immediately burst into tears saying, “They shouldn’t have drawn a face on it because now I’m attached to it”. Then she dropped the egg shell and a crack appeared on his face which produced a new flood of tears. One of the waiters gave her another egg and of course we had to bring them both home with us.

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I find it odd that she can cry about a lemon with face drawn on with pen but not cry over a chicken burger that really did have a face once. I guess I can’t expect a 7-year-old to be philosophically consistent.

A £6,000 Highland Cow

A £6,000 Highland Cow

After a very soggy weekend Edinburgh put on a splendid day for us yesterday. I took lots of lovely photos from high places: first the ferris wheel and later the Scott Monument. Starting with the ferris wheel:

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This is our view at breakfast. We stayed at Motel One on Princess St. There are two Motel Ones in Edinburgh and both are terrific. I highly recommend them.

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The kids wanted to have their photos taken with the grim reaper. Is that bad? A passer-by shouted out to him, “You stay away from me for another 40 years!”.

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Here’s the Scott Monument, to Sir Walter Scott, which is the largest monument to a writer in the world. There are lots of winding and very, very narrow stairs inside which make it, er, rather intimate when trying to pass people going in the opposite direction. I thought they would have different stairwells for people going up and down but there’s only the one. However if you don’t mind tiny spaces, lots of steps, and close encounters with other tourists, it’s well worth checking out.

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We passed a shop with this life-sized highland cow in the window. I asked them whether it’s for sale and it is – with a price tag of £6,000.

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WordCamp Edinburgh 2017

I’ve been in Edinburgh all weekend for the Edinburgh WordCamp, which was hands-down the best WordCamp all year so far. It rained all weekend but that didn’t make the city any less beautiful and nor did it dampen the spirits of all the attendees. The venue was right beneath the castle and it was inspiring to look up each day and see an imposing castle perched on a craggy cliff-face looming above us. The grey sky added to the atmosphere.

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I gave a talk about writing as therapy and my journey into blogging. I started my blog in April 2011 after struggling to deal with anxiety following the Christchurch earthquakes. Writing about my feelings and emotions was therapeutic for me and helped me feel better.

In preparing my talk I wondered whether there was any evidence that writing really does have benefits. It turns out there is. In 1986 an American psychologist, James Pennebaker, published a paper which showed that students who wrote expressively about a traumatic event had fewer physical health problems in subsequent months. Expressive writing really does improve our physical health. It’s thought that when we suppress negative, trauma-related thoughts we compromise our immune function.

There are several similar studies including some which demonstrate benefits in addition to our physical health, like this one which explored expressive writing and job loss. It found that people who had lost their job and wrote about their feelings about losing their job were more likely to be employed again 6 months later.

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To get these health benefits from writing the only rule is that it needs to be expressive. Writing about superficial things like what we’re wearing will not have the same benefit. The goal is to not censor yourself. You must really let go and explore your thoughts and feelings. When you explore how you feel it can makes what seems complicated, simple. It doesn’t have to be public and it doesn’t have to be well-written. There are no spelling or grammar rules that need to be followed.

I ended my talk with this Shakespeare quote from Macbeth.

Give sorrow words; the grief that does not speak

Whispers the o’er-fraught heart and bids it break

– Macbeth Act IV Scene iii 209

Since I was not volunteering or womanning a booth this time I got to see lots of talks and the standard was very high. I want to give a special shoutout to Bridget Hamilton who runs the Verbal Remedy site and who spoke about using WordPress to create social change. Several of my coworkers also gave terrific talks – Stef, Luminus, Sarah, and Kat. I also learnt a lot from Graham Armfield’s talk about accessibility. There were several others that I also thoroughly enjoyed and they’ll all appear on WordPress TV at some point.

The WordPress Edinburgh team put together a great conference. I’m looking forward to the next one.

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A new Doctor Who and speed tourism

The 13th Doctor Who was announced today and sadly, it’s not me. I suppose this shouldn’t come as a surprise since I didn’t audition for the part but just in case Jodie Whittaker changes her mind, I’m available. If there are any BBC casting people reading this then this is a FYI.

Today was so busy. It was my last day on holiday and we have visitors so we did speed tourism which is kind of like speed dating but where you see as many sights as possible. First we went to Burn O’Vat which is basically what it sounds like: a giant stone vat.

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Next stop was the gardens of Crathes Castle.

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Then we made a quick stop at Milton of Crathes which has lots of lovely craft shops, a playground, a brasserie, and a train station for steam trains.

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The last stop was Drum Castle because I needed to get a photograph of the toilets.

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Rocket seeds and stick insects

I’ve been waiting for my rocket to produce seeds for months and months and months and finally some seed pods have emerged. I’m not sure how or why it took so long because it has been flowering for ages now and I just assumed the seeds would be in the flowers but they weren’t. Today I opened up one of the pods and there are seeds in there. Now to see whether they’ll grow.

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I’ve solved the problem of my stick insect population getting out of hand by getting rid of the mesh enclosure. I don’t keep the insects contained at all now. Instead they can roam freely in the laundry and beyond, if they dare. However there’s no food for them anywhere but the laundry so if they leave it they will die. I have several vases of ivy which they can eat. This makes it easy for me to find the eggs and squish them. I don’t know how many insects we have but it’s nice seeing them hanging around the place. When they were in the mesh cage I couldn’t really see them and I had no hope of finding eggs at the bottom.

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Sometimes I’ll find them in another part of the house. They can travel quite a long way for such a small creature but I simply pick them up and take them back. Mostly they just stay in the laundry even though I don’t shut them in there.

Born to ride a Pashley

Born to ride a Pashley

Penelope – that’s her name. My new Pashley is called Penelope. I think I emerged from the womb riding a Pashley because it feels so natural. When we’re cycling I’m not sure where the bike ends and my body begins.

The men in the bike shop laughed at me when I said I got her because I wanted a lighter and faster bike but they don’t know that my other bike is a 43kg cargo bike. The Pashley is so light and manoeuvrable by comparison that I’m not getting the same workout as before. The 5 mile ride to Newton Dee barely lifts my heart rate.

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The children can ride all the way to Newton Dee by themselves now.

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I’m on holiday this week and yesterday I took my mother-in-law to Fyvie Castle. We have only been to this castle once before because it’s a bit further away than some of the others and the drive there is not as scenic as the drive through Royal Deeside.

Fyvie Castle is probably the most palatial inside of all the castles in this region. It’s also something of an art gallery with a magnificent collection of Raeburn paintings. And it’s absolutely enormous.

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Fyvie castle also has a walled garden like all the others but it’s not as good as the walled garden at Crathes and Drum. One very cool thing though: you can stay at Fyvie Castle overnight! There’s an apartment in one of the towers and it sleeps 16. I’d love to do that.

My mid-life crisis Pashley

My mid-life crisis Pashley

For more than half my life I have wanted a Pashley. When I lived in Cambridge as a 20-year-old I saw people cycling around on these magnificent-looking bicycles. I couldn’t afford one myself back then and later I became a parent and needed the station-wagon equivalent of bikes, a Bakfiets. I still love my Bakfiets but sometimes I want a bike I can lift by myself and take up stairs. Now, at 41, I have my mid-life crisis Porche, a Pashley Princess.

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I don’t understand why people buy bikes that force them to ride hunched over the handle-bars. I don’t understand why people buy bikes without mud guards. When it rains the mud spatters up your back and makes your clothes dirty. I don’t understand why people buy bikes without a basket or place to put their bag. How do they carry their belongings around with them? My Pashley has a large basket up front, full mud guards on both wheels, and I can ride sitting upright. This is how bikes should be.

I was a bit nervous about buying another bike after how uncomfortable I found the Danish Butchers and Bicycles bike I owned for a year. I wondered whether I should stick to Dutch bikes but then I read that traditional Dutch bikes are modelled on the Pashley. Britain was making bikes first and the geometry of the Pashley was copied by the Dutch and became the design of the Omafiets or granny bike.

I read lots of reviews before buying the Pashley and on the whole people rave about it. The negative features are that it’s heavy and slow but everything is relative and a 20kg Pashley is as light as a feather next to a 43kg Bakfiets which is what I’m used to. I had no trouble carrying the Pashley upstairs. It also felt much faster to me.

I had the leather seat replaced with a Brooks Cambium C19 which is what my Bakfiets has. I love this seat and as a vegan I did not want a leather saddle. The Brooks Cambium is made with rubber and organic cotton. It’s also maintenance-free unlike the leather version which requires constant attention. I think it looks better too.

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Power dressing, old friends, Drum Castle, and new toilets

Power dressing, old friends, Drum Castle, and new toilets

I have a new look. Just call me Bond, James Bond. I even have my own trusty Aston Martin, a.k.a. Busby.

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Daniel is very lucky to have a friend from New Zealand visiting him right now. They haven’t seen each other in almost three years and a lot changes in that time when you’re a kid. They spent the afternoon today rampaging around Drum Castle.

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Perhaps even more exciting than James Bond and long-lost friends are the new toilets at Drum Castle which are simply smashing!

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Bonobo Café

Bonobo Café

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A couple of weeks ago Aberdeen welcomed its very first vegan café, Bonobo, and today I got to check it out. It’s the result of a kick-starter campaign which I, along with hundreds of others, donated to. All our names are on the wall inside.

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The food was delicious and the service, perfect. They have done a wonderful job inside and created a very warm and friendly place to hang out. The outside garden is a showstopper and puts my plot at the allotments to shame.

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The garden has fruiting tomatoes that are not in a glasshouse. I didn’t think this was possible in Aberdeen.

I had a satay wrap: tofu cooked in a peanut sauce and rolled up with other veggies.

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Elizabeth got the vegan quiche:

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Daniel had the soup:

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Bonobo gets a 10/10 from me. Daniel, the very fussy eater, gave it 8/10 which is terrific! We’ll be back.

The Host – Film Review

After enjoying the film Okja we decided to watch another South Korean film by the same director, Joon-ho Bong. In 2006 he directed The Host which is about a monster fish that walks on land and terrorises and eats humans. The fish appears after some scientists pour toxic chemicals into the River Han.

Joon-ho Bong captures moments of suspense so well. At the beginning there’s a scene where the dad loses contact with his daughter’s hand as they run from the monster and when he grabs it again he accidentally grabs the wrong person’s hand. It all happens in slow motion but you know that the daughter is left behind and that the monster will take her. Then towards the end there’s another scene where the girl is trapped in the monster’s lair and tries to escape when she thinks the creature is sleeping only he isn’t sleeping. There’s a terrifying 20 seconds that feels like several minutes.

Most of the film is about watching the girl’s incompetent family try to rescue her. The family is thwarted at every turn by the authorities who are even more incompetent but also corrupt and, frankly, more terrifying than the monster itself.

Some parts were a bit unbelievable; for instance, the girl was able to survive for ages in the monster’s lair by hiding in a small side tunnel. Why didn’t the monster just grab her with his tail? But as Ben pointed out it’s probably pointless to argue that a scene is unbelievable in a film about a man-eating fish that runs on land.

Frank Spencer at the allotments

Frank Spencer at the allotments

I went to the allotment today to assemble a small cage I purchased to keep the pigeons off the vegetables. I bought what I thought was an easy click-together frame but when I pulled it out I discovered screws and I hadn’t taken a screwdriver with me. Who carries a screwdriver around with them? I got increasingly frustrated slotting poles together only to see them fall out again as soon as I let go. At one point I had it in one piece but upside-down and when I tried to right it everything fell apart again. It was like an episode of Some Mothers Do ‘Ave ‘Em but with me playing the part of Frank Spencer.

Just when I was about to give up, Graeme, another plot-holder, came to the rescue and helped me put it together. Graeme had a screwdriver. Here’s the end result.

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Thank you, Graeme. I couldn’t have done it without you. Here’s Graeme with his newly harvested potatoes.

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My slug beer traps have been very effective. Here are the slugs I’ve caught in one week.

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Okja – Film Review

Okja.pngA soulless multinational company develops a giant pig which poops less and eats less than regular pigs while providing a greater volume of meat. The company sends a number of these super pigs to farmers all over the world to raise for ten years. One of them is sent to South Korea where the farmer’s daughter befriends the pig and when, inevitably, the pig is taken back to New York the girl is devastated and sets off on a rescue mission.

I really enjoyed it. It was funny in parts but also sad. The ALF (Animal Liberation Front) have a prominent role in several action scenes and they are all very well done. I don’t know all that much about the ALF in real life but in the film they were depicted as organised and well-resourced but slightly nuts. There was also some lovely scenery at the beginning of the film which was set in South Korea. It was directed by a South Korean writer/director, Joon-ho Bong.

Would it make a meat-eater question whether to eat bacon for breakfast? I don’t know. It has been so long since I ate bacon that I find the thought repulsive so I’m not the right person to ask. But I do think the film will challenge perceptions of factory farming and how we treat animals today. Towards the end of the film I was reminded of a quote by Nobel Prize winner, Isaac Bashevis Singer:

In relation to them, all people are Nazis; for the animals it is an eternal Treblinka.

But there is reason to hope. We may see lab-grown meat available in stores as early as next year.

Where is health and safety when you need it?

Something I’ve always found a bit odd and somewhat irritating about living in the UK are the health and safety rules. For instance, you can’t enter a school building after 9am without someone buzzing you in. In Australia and New Zealand anyone can walk into school grounds and classrooms are all unlocked during lessons.

When we lived in York I was unable to volunteer as a parent helper for excursions because I didn’t pass the police check. This was because my Australian passport had my maiden name on it while my driver’s licence had my married name and they said this was insufficient to prove my identity.

Given my own experience and some of the stories I’ve heard from others about health and safety gone mad it is with complete astonishment that I now read about all the buildings in London that have failed a simple fire safety test. We won’t allow employees in large companies to walk around with a cup of hot coffee and yet we allow children to live in flammable buildings. There is something seriously wrong with policy-making to end up with this ridiculous situation.

Fruit and veg boxes

Fruit and veg boxes

I ordered some fruit and veg boxes from The Organic Delivery Company and so far I’m impressed. The company is based in London but my order still arrived the very next day which is fantastic given we’re at the other end of the country. My main complaint with fruit and veg from supermarkets is all the plastic they use. Everything is wrapped in plastic. There was still a little bit of plastic in my box but hardly any when compared with the supermarket versions. Here’s what I got:

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I don’t know what that big orange thing is next to the bananas. Anyone know?

Meat allergy tick is spreading thanks to climate change

Meat allergy tick is spreading thanks to climate change

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I thought this story was a hoax at first but I Googled it and found reputable sources like the New Yorker, ABC Science, BBC, and Science Daily.

There’s a nice symmetry to the thought that one of the causes of climate change – livestock farming – could also bring about its demise. Livestock farming produces more greenhouse gas emissions than the entire transport sector – that’s all the cars, trucks, trains, planes, buses, and ships on the planet. As our planet warms, insects, like this meat-allergy-inducing tick, are spreading to areas which were previously too cold for them.

It’s not sustainable to feed 7 billion people the same meat-based diet that most North Americans eat today. Over 50 billion farm animals are slaughtered every year to feed humans. Most of them live short, painful lives in miserable conditions.

Livestock farming is also contributing to antibiotic resistance. “About 75 percent of the antibiotics used in the United States and the European Union countries are used in agriculture.”
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Eating animals is not a very efficient way to get protein because we have to grow a lot of crops to feed those animals. We could just eat those crops ourselves and then we’d have more food to feed a growing population. Here’s a good infographic from an article in The Conversation on deforestation. As you can see, when we pass protein through an animal first we get less out than we put in. And no, I’m not denying that cows eat grass. They do eat grass but most of the 50 billion animals slaughtered for food each year are not grass-fed cows.

If humans really want to eat animals there are more sustainable alternatives. Eating some of the many wild rabbits and deer that are culled each year is one option. There are also rats and mice. I think it’s less ethical to consume dairy products which cause undue suffering to a mother and baby than to eat game marked for culling.

Another possibility is to eat roadkill:

 

If that’s unpalatable then just eat any of the 20,000 species of edible plants in the world.

Our allotment two months later

Our allotment two months later

I spent several hours at the allotment this morning. Our plot still needs a lot of work but when I compare the now photo with the before photo I realise we have come a long way. Here’s how it looked in April:

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Here’s how it looks today:

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Now I just need to turn it into food. Right now I’m mostly feeding the resident slug population. My kale has been decimated:

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I have a three-pronged strategy in my war against the slugs. Firstly, I bought some nematodes which are microorganisms that infect slugs and kill them. I watered that into the soil today so hopefully I’ll see some improvements in the coming weeks. Secondly, I put out some beer traps which will attract the snails and drown them. Thirdly, I put down some strulch. Strulch is a straw mulch that repels slugs and snails. I put it on the garden at home. It reduces the number of weeds and helps retain soil moisture. It also smells lovely. Poisonous slug pellets are best avoided. I’ve heard they can be eaten by small animals and then the small animals are eaten by larger animals causing the poison to travel up the food chain getting more and more concentrated. The poisons have also been found in streams and rivers.

Here is one of the beer traps:

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It’s fair to say our allotment is the worst one there except for this one but it doesn’t look like anyone is tending to this one so it doesn’t really count.

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Tell lions not to eat dogs

This post is for my vegan friends who I’m sure will enjoy this Facebook article that appeared in my feed this week. I had a good laugh because every single one of those points has been said to me in the 15 years that I have been vegan. If you click the “See More” link you can see the full post without having to visit Facebook.

I particularly like this one “Before you tell the people of Bali not to eat dogs you better go to Africa & tell a lion not to eat a dog.” I posted about this recently on my own blog in Animals eat each other so why shouldn’t we eat them? and a couple of weeks later someone used the same argument with me again. I confess I was a little curt with them in my response. How can people be so stupid? I should be more understanding and compassionate but this is what happens when you hear the same stupid arguments for 15 years. I will endeavour to be more understanding going forward. No-one ever became vegan because they were made to feel stupid.

Arguing in a bike, swishing, and pollution

Arguing in a bike, swishing, and pollution

I cycled into town with the kids this evening and they had a huge fight in the bike. The fight was because Daniel said he can click his fingers and Elizabeth says he can’t. This is the downside to having kids in a bike. When you’re in a car members of the public can’t hear your kids arguing in the back and so parents are spared the embarrassment. But in the bike every pedestrian we cycled past heard it. Thankfully they very rarely fight and had made up by the time we cycled home which was just after this next photo was taken.

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One of Ben’s old PhD students from New Zealand is visiting. He lives in China now and complained about the pollution there. Walking along Union St in Aberdeen he commented on how great it was to breathe the fresh air. Union St is one of the most polluted Streets in Scotland. Thank goodness we don’t live in China. I would not like it at all. Aberdeen is a great place to live. While the rest of the UK has been complaining about the heat we have been lovely and cool with temperatures no higher than 20C this past week.

A couple of days ago I went to a swishing night which is an event where you take a heap of clothes you no longer want and swap them for clothes other people no longer want. As one mum put it: it’s like shopping without spending any money. It was fantastic and I got the dress I’m wearing in the photo at swishing. I would definitely do it again.

I planted a couple of sweet peas in a small patch of dirt on our footpath. They started flowering a couple of weeks ago and look lovely.

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